Slow-pho chicken

I’m not making any claims as to the authenticity of this pho,  (it doesn’t rhyme with slow for a start) but it needs a name and as noodle soup, full of fresh herbs and fragrant with ginger and chili it comes pretty close. What makes it worthy of comment to me is the discovery that it is possible to cook a whole chicken in a slow cooker.

The need for a slow cooker has arisen from our new (old) oven. The thing burns gas with the ferocity of a North Sea flare but the door is missing a particularly vital catch. While we were kindly provided with a wooden board for propping the door shut, it’s hardly the most efficient use of resources and makes roasting anything of significance tricky. My parents have kindly provided this seventies delight on a long term loan and I’m always on the look out for things to cook in it.

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To start the chicken, scatter an onion sliced into wedges, four cloves of garlic, squashed and peeled, a roughly chopped chilli and a good lump of ginger, sliced, into the crock pot. Rest the chicken on top, the chicken needs to be relatively small so it fits. I used a 1.2 kilo chicken which provided enough meat for a couple of meals and leftovers for sandwiches (and meant I could afford a step up to a happier chicken). Gently pour a litre of water around the bird and add two tablespoons of dark soy sauce (I used four here as per the recipe but since it’s mostly for colour, two will do). Sprinkle a tablespoonful of five spice powder over the chicken, rubbing it into the crevices and that’s it.

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This gets cooked on high for four and a half hours (I don’t know if slow cooker technology has moved on in the last 35 years, mine only does high or low) while you get on with your day. The chicken half poaches, half steams and produces its own stock as it does so. Once the four and a half hours are up, gently lever out the chicken (it will be literally falling off the bone) and tip the stock though a colander into a bowl (don’t forget the bowl and tip it down the sink. It happens.). Leave the stock to cool and pick as much meat off the chicken as you can.

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After all that build up, making the pho itself takes minutes. For two people, chop three spring onions and a handful of coriander (and any other leafy herbs you have lying around, I used basil and the mint that is currently battling the snails and avicidal neighbourhood cats for control of our garden). If you have peanuts, chop some of them too. For veg, I used a finely sliced carrot and green beans, steamed in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Cover a portion of rice noodles per person in boiling water for about a minute, till they’re just softened. The noodles will cook further when you cover them in stock so they don’t leave them too long.

Take your cooled stock and scrape off any fat that has solidified on top (don’t worry about all of it but too much will make it greasy). Tip the stock into a pan and heat gently. Add a judicious splash of fish sauce, a pinch of brown sugar and the juice of half a lime to the hot stock (save the other half of the lime for serving).

Add some noodles, chicken and vegetables to each bowl. Ladle the stock over and top with herbs, spring onions and peanuts.

I only used half the stock here, the other half going straight in the freezer for later use.

This is definitely the way to cook a chicken if your oven door won’t shut, and even if it does. There’s no crispy skin but you could remedy that by browning the chicken in a frying pan before it goes in or sticking it in a hot oven for 20 minutes after it comes out. For a more traditional route, I would rest the chicken on a bed of celery, carrot and onion, leaving out the soy sauce and five spice, and adding maybe some thyme sprigs and some lemon halves up its bum. But I can’t just eat chicken – any bright ideas as to what else I should be slow cooking?

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